Naturalist Journeys, LLC - Small Group Birding and Natural History Tours

Florida’s Everglades and Sanibel Island
April 16-23, 2011
with optional extension to the Florida Keys/Dry Tortugas, April 23-27, 2011

 

Guide: Greg Smith

Great Blue HeronFlorida is a naturalist’s paradise, the only subtropical wilderness in continental U.S.  Join guide Greg Smith to explore this rich mixing ground of tropical and temperate species -- birds, butterflies, unique plants, and more!

In the Everglades, we travel by boat through mangroves to search for American Alligator, Saltwater Crocodile and a lush array of wading birds.  Walk through tropical hardwood “hammocks” – isolated tree islands that are among America’s rarest habitats – to search for Pine Warblers, Barred Owls and colorful endemic tree snails.  Shoreline tidal habitats of Florida Bay and nearby Eco Pond host Roseate Spoonbill, Purple Gallinule, and Least and American Bitterns.

For the extension we spend three nights on the Florida Keys in lodgings with lush gardens and a wonderful, relaxing atmosphere.  We have a grand time exploring and birding, at a bird rehabilitation center, photographing wild White Ibises, herons, and egrets attracted in by the noise of birds on the mend. On Lignum Vitae Key, explore a state park that protects some of the finest native, subtropical plants in Florida. At Bahia Honda, walk a white-sand beach. One of the highlights of the trip is a full day boat tour out to the Dry Tortuga Islands where we hope to find both Brown and Masked boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Bridled and Sooty terns, Brown Noddies. Throughout our time in the Keys we enjoy local cuisine, from simple “crab shacks” to elaborate seaside dining. 

 

ITINERARY

Sat., April 16 Arrival in Fort Lauderdale
After gathering at the airport by 2:00 PM, we leave and head north to Juno Beach (or anywhere in Palm County). April is a wonderful time to visit South Florida. Migrants augment the resident birds, many of the special plants are in bloom and South Florida’s breeding bird specialties have arrived from winter homes in the Caribbean and beyond.  After settling in at our accommodations, we enjoy sunset and dinner.
Accommodations in Juno Beach (D)

Roseate SpoonbillSun., April 17   Florida Specialties Birding 
Today we explore several ecological gems that are city, regional and state parks with a mix of habitats ideal for finding birds. While swaying coconut palms and sweeping white-sand beaches are symbols of the region, we search out Florida specialties. We look for Gray Kingbirds on the wires as we search local parks for the endemic Florida Scrub-Jay.  As we drive west through South-central Florida we will be scanning for Short-tailed Led Hawk and other raptors that may be on the move. Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys are all subject to mobbing by the much smaller but bold American Kestrels. Merlins and Cooper’s Hawks come through in good number. We should see Crested Caracara perched atop trees or on the ground taking advantage of a meal along with groups of Black Vulture as we move west.  The other specialty we will look for is the Limpkin.  The flooded wetlands along this route are ideal for spotting this sometimes rare wader.
Accommodations in Ft. Meyers (B,L,D)

Brown PelicanMon., April 18 Benton-Webb WMA / Sanibel Island / J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR
We start the day early heading up to Benton-Webb Wildlife Management Area.  This area is home to numerous pairs of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the rare Bachmann’s Sparrow and the equally rare Brown-headed Nuthatch.  While locating these species we will also be looking for the Florida’s resident race of the Sandhill Crane.  Mid-morning we head over to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, which are barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Sanibel is home to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge www.dingdarlingsociety.org  a vitally important area for migrant birds and resident wading birds. The 6000+ acre refuge has mangrove habitat, Cabbage and Sabal Palm woodlands as well as wetland habitats. Close to 240 species of birds have been recorded, along with 50 types of reptiles and 32 species of mammals.  The refuge’s Education Center has exhibits and information and a tram system allows us to explore a four-mile scenic drive.  This refuge is treasured by wildlife photographers for spectacular views of Roseate Spoonbills and other large wading birds.  In addition to extensive time at the refuge today, we visit the historic lighthouse which sits on a point known to be a migrant hotspot, particularly when north winds keep birds from flying further inland. We also learn more about the area’s unique ecology at a local nature center and visit a lagoon prized as a premier area to spot shorebirds. After a full day enjoy dinner at your leisure. You can catch a quick bite or dine in style at one of the area’s fine restaurants.
Accommodations in Ft. Meyers (B,L)

American OystercatcherTues., April 19  Cape Coral Audubon's Corkscrew Sanctuary www.corkscrew.audubon.org
Today we explore a two-mile boardwalk trail through an almost mythical stand of ancient Bald Cypress.  Trees are draped with ferns, epiphytic orchids and bromeliads.  Anhingas preen their elegant plumage on the knees of these giants and Swallow-tailed Kites attend to nesting and courtship.  Northeast of Naples, the National Audubon Society has preserved 11,000 acres of pine and swamp habitat. They have recently revamped the Visitor Center to expand its educational offerings.  Corkscrew is nesting home for the largest remaining colony of endangered Wood Storks in the U.S.  Their story is compelling and reveals the complexity of water flow so vital to the region. We should enjoy good looks at waders and songbirds alike. While we are not likely to see them, the fact that both Florida Black Bear and Florida Panther have been recorded here speaks to its ecological integrity.

In the afternoon we spend time looking for wild orchids that peak in bloom at this time of year. We visit several wet prairies. We also visit Tigertail Beach on Marco Island to observe Black Skimmers and other shorebirds. We then head to Cape Coral to look for an active Burrowing Owl colony that the local neighborhood has protected.
Accommodations and meals in Ft. Meyers/Naples area (B,L,D)

Black SkimmerWed., April 20 Shark Valley / Fakahatchee Strand
Today is a travel day. We head east back towards Miami, then veer south to the Homestead area, gateway to Everglades National Park.  En route we enjoy an open-air tram ride through Shark Valley – a unique part of the Everglades and the widest expanse of the “sea of grass.”  Park naturalists provide a relaxing introduction to the Everglades’ major vegetation types and we have an excellent chance of seeing Boat-tailed Grackle, Snail Kite, other raptors, White-tailed Deer, American Alligator, and some striking tropical butterflies.

We also walk the boardwalk trail at a fragment of a forest once known as the “the Amazon of North America.”. Today Fakahatchee Strand, stands as a  twenty by five mile wide reminder of ancient Bald Cypress forest. Flowing fresh water moves through as a slow and shallow river. This slough effect buffers climatic extremes and several rare plants of tropical origin can be found here. Unique here is the presence of native Royal Palms amid the cypress.

Over forty species of native orchids have been recorded and in line with a subtropical theme -- 14 native bromeliad species. Learn more about Florida panthers and the struggle to secure their populations.

Afterward seeing these two areas, we drive to our lodgings near Homestead, passing through agricultural lands where canals provide refuge for Blue-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Mottled Ducks and more. 
Accommodations in Florida City (B,L)

Purple GallinuleThurs., April 21 and Fri., April 22 Everglades National Park
Once in the park, we stop at a boardwalk trail for a first glimpse of Purple Gallinule, Anhinga, possible Limpkin and of a variety of herons and egrets that feed in the aquatic realm.

We have two full days in the Everglades and a lot of great places to explore!  Examples include Eco Pond and Florida Bay, where we look for secretive Least Bittern as well as brilliant White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbills passing overhead.  Purple Gallinule and Common Moorhen feed in the shallows, and with luck we may find a bold American Bittern.

On one of our mornings, we take an estuary boat trip to explore the mangrove ecosystem.  This unusual “forest” provides fantastic food resources that draw wading birds like magnets.  We should see the two color phases of Little Blue Herons, many Great and Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons and both Black- and Yellow-crowned Night Herons.  Overhead, we watch for the chevrons of American White Pelicans and Roseate Spoonbills in flight.  At the freshwater/saltwater margin we may find a unique combination: American Alligators close to Saltwater Crocodiles.  In shallow pools we hope to see the archaic-looking Wood Storks feeding on small schools of fish. 

Wilson's PloverOn land we explore a fine selection of short trails that highlight the important habitats of the park.  Here, just a few inches of elevation can make all the difference in the world.  At the edge of the bay we find flocks of wintering shorebirds, including Red Knot and a variety of “peeps” you CAN learn to identify!  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter here, as do Belted Kingfishers, and a good number of juvenile Broad-winged Hawks.  At Mahogany and other “hammocks” (isolated tree islands) we explore a mix of broadleaf trees that create a very tropical atmosphere – Gumbo Limbos, Coco Plums, and more.  This is one of North America’s rarest habitats.  Here we look for colorful, endemic tree snails, and butterflies such as Zebra Longwing, Red-spotted Purple, and Orange Julias.

On drier ridgeline trails we walk under fast-growing, fire-friendly Slash Pine, where we may find a great variety of birds: Red-shouldered Hawks; flocks of wintering warblers such as Black and White, Ovenbird and Northern Waterthrush; and over-wintering flycatchers such as Eastern Phoebes and Great-crested Flycatchers.  Here we also hope to find the woodpeckers, the more common being Northern Flickers, Downy and Red bellied Woodpeckers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  Even an occasional Pileated or Red-headed Woodpecker is a possibility!  The understory of Saw Palmetto seems almost out of place and time.  We will also visit coastal prairies, and with luck we may find Prairie and Palm Warblers, highly specialized Snail Kites, or possibly Short-tailed Hawks in this habitat.

Geologically this is a new world, consisting primarily of oolitic limestone and prehistoric coral reefs raised up since the last Ice Age.  Mammals we may encounter include Raccoons, Bobcats, and River Otters.  White-crowned Pigeons frequent the area; in deep woods we may find a remarkably tame Barred Owl.

On the first night dinner is at your leisure. On the final night we celebrate our adventures at a favorite local restaurant. 
Accommodations in Florida City (B,L both days and dinner the 16th)

Sat., April 23 Departures from Fort Lauderdale
For those not going on the extension, we will arrange a group shuttle, covered in the cost of your journey, to take you to the airport by 10:30 am.  We do highly recommend the extension while you are here, but if you must return home, please schedule your flights out at noon or later.

 

KEYS  EXTENSION

April 23-27, 2010
Sat., April 23 Miami – Tropical Birds and Gardens
For those staying on for the extension, we will  begin by spending the morning exploring residential areas in greater Miami searching for a fun list of oddities – introduced species that thrive in the lush gardens and defacto woodlands created by urban plantings. The list includes such things as Monk Parakeets, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Common Mynas, Spot-breasted Orioles, and other introduced exotics. Birding at the famous Fairchild tropical botanical Garden www.fairchildgarden.org/ gives us a chance to find some great birds while learning about tropical plants from around the globe. We end our day by visiting an active parrot roost at dusk.  Dinner tonight is at your leisure.
Accommodations in Miami

Reddish EgretSun., April 24 Upper Florida Keys
We get an early start today to head down the highway that runs the length of a chain of islands known as the Florida Keys. There are some lovely gardens and parks along the way, and a number of birding spots to investigate. On phone wires we find Gray Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and inquisitive Northern Mockingbirds. A bird rehabilitation center is an excellent place to photograph wild species attracted to the cacophony of noise created by birds on the mend. In the afternoon we’ll stop at Windley Fossil Reef Park and search for migrant warblers and the Black-whiskered Vireo.  Walk the trails with a park naturalist as we look for: Northern Parula, American Redstart, Yellow, Yellow-throated, Pine warbler and more.  Return to dine in style as we choose one of our favorite restaurants tonight. Enjoy fresh seafood, often served with a Caribbean flair. For dessert: Key lime pie of course….
Accommodations in the central part of the keys (B,L,D) 

Lesser YellowlegsMon., April 25 Lower Florida Keys
We spend much of the morning at stunning Bahia Honda State Park which has a great little nature center, a protected beach for birding and scenery that rivals any in the world.  Butterflies at this park rival the birds.  Here, and on towards Key West, we look for Common Ground Doves, Smooth-billed Anis, Key West Quail Doves, and possibly Yellow-billed and/or Mangrove Cuckoos.  We return in time for you to swim and to enjoy our lodgings.  Tonight is a free night for dinner and you can choose a restaurant that appeals to your tastes and budget. There are many excellent ones to choose from1
Accommodations in the central part of the keys (B,L) 

Tues., April 26 Dry Tortugas
This morning, early, we drive down to Key West where we meet our boat for the trip to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. This is a spectacular day trip on which we have a chance to see both Brown and Masked boobies, Magnificent Frigate birds, Bridled and Sooty terns and Brown Nod dies. This group of seven small islands is vitally important to migrant songbirds heading north as a stopover place to refuel. We have several hours on the largest island where we search for songbirds among the ruins of Fort Jefferson. This is a full day and we arrive back at the harbor late afternoon. We then head to our lodgings to freshen up and venture out to a nearby dinner for a celebratory evening.
Accommodations in the central part of the keys (B,L,D) 

Wed., April 27 Departures
This morning we drive back to Fort Lauderdale, for flights out after 1:00 PM. We plan to get an early start to arrive at the airport by 11:30 AM.  (B)

 

PLAN AHEAD!
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Cost of the Journey: $2190.00, from Ft. Lauderdale, based on double occupancy. This cost includes airport transfers, all accommodations, boat tours and other group activity fees, transportation by van, meals as specified in the itinerary, professional guide services, local park fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. It does not include round trip airfare to or from Ft. Lauderdale; items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, or drinks from the bar; gratuities for local guides, porterage, or personal services; or optional activities such as sea kayaking or snorkeling at Bahia Honda.  Cost is based on a minimum of 10 participants; with fewer there may be a small group surcharge ($100 - $300 per participant). Single supplement is $525.00. Cost of the extension, including boat tour of Ft. Jefferson, is $985.00; single supplement is $235.00.

Travel Planning: Most major airlines serve Ft. Lauderdale including Southwest, US Airways, American, Delta, Continental, Air Canada and Frontier Airlines. Please plan to arrive Ft. Lauderdale no later than 2:00 PM on Saturday, April 16. Please plan on departures after noon Saturday, April 23 for the main tour, or after 1:00 PM on Wednesday April 27 if going on the extension.

Naturalist Journeys, LLC is an equal opportunity service provider and committed to the goal of ensuring equal opportunity for all in employment and program delivery.  

Photo Credits:
All images by Tony Beck - http://tonybeck.ca/

 

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